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Billionaire Koch offers rare rebuttal to Dem attacks

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By Shannon Travis, CNN Political Reporter

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Billionaire industrialist David Koch, who critics accuse of bankrolling a fierce and costly campaign against President Obama, offered a rare rebuttal to Democratic attacks against him on Thursday.

Koch rarely speaks to the press. But at an event near the site of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, he responded to a CNN question regarding the Obama campaign’s targeting of him as a prime political opponent.

“We live in a country that believes in free speech,” he said. “I’m a Republican and I believe in fiscal responsibility and supporting American business. So I think I have a right to speak out.”

“The president says what he wants to. But I believe in free speech,” Koch added.

The event – a private reception – was sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, a prime supporter of the tea party movement. CNN was the only television network allowed to attend.

The event was titled, “A Salute to Entrepreneurs Building America.” Besides Koch, also in attendance were AFP Chairman Art Pope and Republican lawmakers Jon Kyl, the Arizona senator, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price. Hundreds of grassroots activists also attended.

Koch is the chairman of the AFP Foundation, the group’s 501 (c)(3) whose work aims at “educating citizens about the value of limited government and a free market economy.” He, along with brother Charles Koch, are the titans behind Koch Industries – the second-largest privately held company in the U.S.

The pair are fierce promoters of free enterprise. At the event, Koch defended his ideals.

“I think what is one of the greatest concerns that I have, that AFP is working on, is the deficits that the federal government is running which has risen to gigantic levels,” Koch said. “And I’m very concerned that if these deficits continue, for years to come, that it’s going to cause runaway inflation, the debt service will become unaffordable of the federal debt. And this country will see a terrible collapse. And I don’t want to see this country collapse like Greece is doing or become like Zimbabwe with runaway inflation.”

Sen. Johnson said: “We are in a fight for freedom. And let’s face it: from my standpoint, the greatest threat to freedom is ignorance. And what Americans for Prosperity bring to the table is information.”

Koch is a supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. In July, the corporate titan hosted a private fundraiser for Romney at his estate in Southampton.

The Kochs have also been accused of bankrolling political attacks against the president and their Democratic opponents.

AFP has spent tens of millions of dollars in a broadcast campaign critical of President Obama. But detractors accuse the brothers of trying to sway the election towards conservatives and, in turn, advance policies that would benefit their own corporate interests.

Supporters of the Kochs have long denied those claims.

The Obama campaign has previously targeted the Kochs.

In February, the president’s campaign sent out a fundraising letter tying the Kochs to Romney and accusing the brothers of bankrolling “tea party extremism” and committing $200 million in an attempt “to destroy President Obama before Election Day.”

In response, Koch Companies Public Sector wrote an open letter directly to the Obama campaign.

“It is both surprising and disappointing that the President would allow his re-election team to send such an irresponsible and misleading letter to his supporters,” the letter stated. It went on to defend the brothers’ free market principles and denied they had committed $200 million against the president.

At Thursday’s event, Koch also answered a reporter’s question about being vilified by his detractors.

“Well, that’s massively inaccurate in my opinion,” Koch said. “I try to do things in life that make the world a better place. I’m very philanthropic. I’m a major contributor to cancer research, medical research. I’m a big supporter of cultural institutions, educational institutions.”

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